Rivals clash in AJ Bell final
By NATHAN CLARKE in Manchester
One of the most intense and acrimonious rivalries in squash will be renewed today (Dec 5) when three-time World Champion Nick Matthew and long-term domestic opponent James Willstrop will lock horns in the final of the 2016 AJ Bell British Squash Grand Prix.
The pairing, separated by just three years in age and thirty miles in their home county of Yorkshire, have maintained a fiery relationship since first clashing in 2001, with Willstrop going as far as citing his rival as ‘pretentious and vicious’ during a 15-year rivalry that has produced some of the most memorable matches in squash history – including the 2010 Canary Wharf Classic semi-final, which many claim to be the best squash match ever played.
Both have struggled with injury over the past few years, with Willstrop battling back from a career-threatening hip injury suffered in 2014, but this latest duel will see them clash in peak renaissance form – making for what promises to be the most blistering encounter since their meeting in the 2014 Commonwealth Games Final.
“I said at the start of the week I came here to win it. I’ve been in a lot of semis and finals of late and it’s about time I converted one of them,” said 36-year-old Matthew, who secured his place in the final with a 3-1 win over Daryl Selby.
Pictures by Patrick Lauson
“It’s going to be tough because James is in great form – and it’s great to see that. Coming from 2-0 down against Gaultier is hard but it didn’t surprise me because of how well James has been playing recently – he’s such a classy player and we’ve always had big battles, I’ve never taken that rivalry for granted.
“We’ve played in literally in every final going! The thing about our rivalry is that more often than not we’ve played in big matches, that’s why it is such a good rivalry. There have been lots of big finals in there so tomorrow will another to add to the list.”
Former World No.1 Willstrop booked his place in the final with an impressive victory over World No.3 Gregory Gaultier that saw him battle back from 0-2 down to seal a 3-2 win and end an six match losing streak, and he’ll be hoping to continue his run and end an 18 match losing streak against Matthew that dates back to 2007.
“Nick has just been awesome recently, the way he’s been so dogged and tough – he was fantastic in Qatar and at the U.S Open so I know I’ll have to give him huge respect on there,” said Willstrop.
“Today I was getting outplayed in the first half of the match so to turn it around, and put some good squash together under pressure, and get the win feels very good and to be in the final is great.
“I know we’re both a bit older but I think we’re playing as well as we have done for quite a while.”
2016 AJ Bell British Squash Grand Prix, Manchester, England.
 James Willstrop (ENG) bt  Gregory Gaultier (FRA) 3-2: 4-11, 8-11, 11-8, 11-6, 11-5 (68m)
 Nick Matthew (ENG) bt  Daryl Selby (ENG) 3-1: 11-5, 11-8, 11-13, 11-5 (77m)
 James Willstrop (ENG) v  Nick Matthew (ENG)
Tickets for the 2016 AJ Bell British Squash Grand Prix are available to purchase on the door.
Pictures by PATRICK LAUSON